‘Achievements of national cricket team are the result of sheer determination of players, coaches'

Chhumbi Lama

Managing Director, Queens Event Management, Pokhara Premier League/Women Champions League 

Chairman, Cricket Excellence Centre

Executive Member, Cricket Association of Nepal

The conviction to make a significant change through sports is what drove Chhumbi Lama and his partners to establish Queens Event Management. “We basically focus on cricket but will be looking at promoting other sports too in the future,” he says. To increase the level of interest for cricket in the country and to also help budding talent hone their skills, he established the Cricket Excellence Centre in collaboration with Paras Khadka and Gyanendra Malla, former captains of the Nepali national cricket team.

Through his association as an Executive Member of Cricket Association of Nepal, Lama is endeavouring to better the administration aspects of the national bodies that govern various sporting activities. “I may not be able to get involved with all sports governing bodies but if I can make a few considerable changes at CAN, then maybe I can set an example for others,” he shares. The potential to develop cricket and link it with tourism is immense, he says, explaining the reason for starting Pokhara Premier League and Women Champions League.

In this edition of Business 360, we caught up with Lama to learn more about his vision for developing the gentleman’s game and to gain insight into the business of sport.

What motivated you to establish Queens Event Management and Cricket Excellence Centre?

After the Nepali national cricket team played the T-20 World Cup in 2014, the craze for cricket gained huge momentum in the country. However, our domestic cricket structure was limited to very few notable events and tournaments. With the aim of organising and managing cricket events in the country, Queens Event Management was established in 2017. In a span of five years and with the pandemic in between, we have been able to successfully organise two editions of Pokhara Premier League (PPL) T-20, inaugural edition of Women Champions League (WCL) T-20 and managed a few other national level tournaments. Also, with all of our team members coming from a cricketing background, the other aim of Queens Event Management has been to commercialise cricket and the overall sports sector in Nepal. This is with the vision to help both players and organisers reap financial benefits from various events and competitions. Queens also focuses on promoting domestic and international tourism through sports. This has resulted in our major cricket event, PPL being organised in Pokhara, one of the top tourist destinations of Nepal.

On the other hand, Cricket Excellence Centre (CEC) is a private academy based in Kathmandu, which provides professional coaching for all cricketers with the aim to develop home-grown players and pave a pathway for a professional career in cricket. The foundation of the centre was laid jointly by Nepal’s former captains Paras Khadka and Gyanendra Malla and myself, with the sole aim of providing quality cricket training, world-class cricketing infrastructure, and an opportunity to learn from experts. The centre is an institute born to revolutionise the standards of coaching and development of cricket in Nepal. CEC was established with a mission to eradicate one major hurdle in the path of churning out talented cricketers from Nepal: lack of proper coaching and guidance at the grassroots level. Since only the best can promisingly turn out the best, CEC also has onboard renowned international coaches as chief mentors. We have set a clear vision to decentralise the coaching facility and now will be working to open branches in all seven provinces.

What was the initial investment for the company?

Queens Event Management was established in 2017. You can hardly estimate the investment for an event management company as the cost goes up and down with every event. Pokhara Premier League T-20, an elite cricket competition, was our first ever project. In 2018, we pulled off the first ever edition of the PPL T-20 with great success which was followed by another successful edition in 2019. To decentralise cricket and organise an international event in a city like Pokhara was financially challenging. Including both the franchise and organisers investment, we have already made an investment of about Rs 13 million in the two seasons of PPL in which the majority of our investment was demarcated for preparation of the ground from zero level and prize pool and financial benefits of the players.

Similarly, the Cricket Excellence Centre is a dream project for us. We have given all of our heart and effort to build this centre as an iconic venue and the investment has already amounted to Rs 20 million.

What significance do events like the PPL and Women Champions League have in Nepal?

The Pokhara Premier League (PPL) T-20 is an elite international cricket tournament in Nepal. With a majority of cricket events being held only within Kathmandu valley and the TU Cricket Ground, in particular, the decentralisation of cricket was very crucial back then. Organising the cricket event in a city like Pokhara also opened up a new avenue of tourism via sports. People travelled to Pokhara from different parts of the country just to watch the matches which definitely helped in building the relationship between sports and tourism. We even had visitors from England during the second edition of the league.

Alongside tourism, the infrastructural development of the cricket ground in Pokhara has benefited the local players, kids and enthusiasts who love and follow the game. Reputed and big names of international cricket like Rohan Mustafa, Babar Hayat, Sunny Patel, Peter Trego, Daniel Lawrence, among others have already participated in the PPL as international players.

Talking about the Women Champions League (WCL) T-20, I proudly can term this event as a revolution in Nepali women’s cricket. Leaving behind cricketing giants like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, WCL is the first ever franchise-based women’s cricket tournament in South Asia. We wanted to set an example in promoting women in sports. It was also the first women’s league in the country to be broadcast live on national television.

Any other activities in the pipeline…

We are currently working on the preparation of the second season of Women Champions League T-20 which will be followed by the third edition of the Pokhara Premier League T-20. Apart from these two major events, we are also managing a national age-level tournament named Baliyo Nepal Cup. It is a U-16 level tournament initiated by Baliyo Nepal Nutrition Initiative. We recently organised the first edition of the tournament in Lumbini Province where children from 12 districts of the province took part. It was an exciting event with aspiring players from backward districts like Rukum and Rolpa among others showcasing their skills in the mega event. We all know that some districts like Rukum and Rolpa have been facing immense challenges both economically and infrastructure-wise after the Maoist insurgency and to see kids coming from those districts and participate in a reputed cricket event itself is historical.
Our focus is clearly to uplift the standard of our existing events. Our core team has been working day in and out to raise the bar of Women Champions League and Pokhara Premier League in the coming edition.

How important do you feel are sporting centres like Cricket Excellence Centre in Nepal?

Cricket is a widely followed game in Nepal. There are millions of kids and youths who dream of becoming the next Paras Khadka or the next Gyanendra Malla. But sadly, we still lack modern coaching and training approach for aspiring players.

We all can agree to the point that the achievements of the national cricket team till date is the result of sheer determination and self-growth of the players and coaches involved. We are still very far from providing quality coaching and grooming to players from the basic level. Hence, academies like Cricket Excellence Centre provide young cricketers with what it takes to reach the pinnacle.
With Nepal bagging success in the international arena, the passion among young kids and aspiring players is very high. In such conditions, a well-equipped and quality cricket academy like Cricket Excellence Centre can help players to sharpen their skills and get the platform to achieve their goal. Ultimately, this will end up strengthening the national cricket team as we aim to produce quality players from our centre.

With the challenges of sustainability, do you believe such centres can be profitable ventures in the future?

From a business point of view, it is still very risky to invest huge amounts in an academy and cricket training centre. There are ample examples where academies have shut down in quick time due to financial crisis. If you talk about our academy, we have pure passion for cricket and its development. However, at some point, the return on investment has to be there. So, until and unless there is a culture of kids joining academies, parents supporting children in their interest for sports, and corporate houses understanding the sponsorship mileage that comes from sports, it is not going to be easy for academies and training centres to be self-sustaining.

How can an aspiring young sports person expect to benefit after joining CEC?

When young kids and aspiring cricketers join the Cricket Excellence Centre, one can expect them to get quality training and progressive environment. Renowned national and international coaches are onboard, top notch indoor and outdoor training facilities, modern coaching courses, match-focused training, among other facilities keep us ahead of other academies. We definitely want every student from our academy to succeed in cricket and play for the nation but it’s impractical to think that is what will happen. But we are hopeful and give our best to promote and create platforms for skilled, talented and sincere players. CEC is not just a cricket academy; it’s an amalgamation of sports and education. We encourage our students to become better people before becoming sports persons.

Why do you think sports has not developed in the country despite the interest?

The craze and love for games is very pure in our country. However, for an ecosystem to run effectively, there has to be overall contribution. In the case of Nepal, the government has not been able to prioritise sports. Similarly, the governing bodies have also failed to work efficiently, which works as an obstruction in the development of the sports fraternity. Less opportunities for players to showcase their skills, less sporting events resulting in less sponsorship mileage, etc have been major problems in the Nepali sports sector.

How important are sponsorships?

Sponsorships are the major source of funding for cricket academies. We at Cricket Excellence Centre are thankful for being able to join hands with some highly reputed corporate houses in Nepal. Bajaj Pulsar, F1 Soft International, Magic Footwear, etc are in cooperation with us currently. Not only for us, but for the betterment of the cricket ecosystem, relationships with corporate houses have to be very strong. In addition, cricket can be a better sport to provide mileage for sponsorship. With space for advertisement after every six balls, there is enough time for promotional activities during live broadcasts as well.

Are corporate sponsorships growing?

Nepal has the potential of becoming the hub for cricket with its geographical conditions and also with the national team bagging the ODI status but the political scenario has left us behind in the race. Sports can have an impact on the Nepali economy in creating employment as well as a host for various sporting events. The 2019 SAG is a perfect example.
I believe the lack of professional structure in the sport’s governing bodies and lack of government attention might have created hindrances for corporate sector engagement in sports. But things are changing. We now see the interest of the corporate sector gradually growing. There are various franchise leagues taking place around the country which genuinely indicate that the corporate sector is evolving in relation to games. Sports being a medium that has a great mass live and virtual audience can be the best marketing platform for the corporate sector to showcase their brands.
Sponsoring sports tournaments provides unique opportunities for businesses and helps them develop in ways that general advertising doesn’t. For example, it allows the sponsor to show their capabilities in ways audiences may otherwise not get to see. Consumers are generally aware that official sponsors contribute to the events or sports they love, and research shows that sports fans have a more positive perception of event sponsors. Sponsoring a tournament can help create loyalty towards the brand. I think they are seeing a great investment opportunity in sports nowadays and private sector involvement is growing.

Are there policies that hinder the growth of sports in the country?

For any sport or athlete to flourish, sporting infrastructure and government interest play a vital role. I believe, in a country like Nepal, joint collaboration of the private sector and government is a must. Our sports authorities need to understand that sport is no more an insignificant array of sportspeople battling for top positions but the entire careers of the people are at stake. There is a distinct system emanating from this field and should be given adequate attention.

How do you view the future of Nepali cricket and sports in general in Nepal?

I am a very optimistic person. I have always seen a bright future for Nepali cricket. Cricket is growing by leaps and bounds in the country. With Nepali cricket team bagging ODI status and some sparkling performances at the international level, the craze for the game has grown in the country. The future of Nepali cricket is on the bright side as we have an opportunity to retain the ODI status and also play the 50-over World Cup.

The young generation is taking responsibility and with the increasing bench strength, the team looks good and the future looks good. But to achieve the ambition of making Nepal a test playing nation, concerned stakeholders and sectors be it government or private, should join hands to develop the game. The Cricket Association of Nepal, the governing body for cricket in Nepal, should focus more on the development of sports in the country and improving the grassroots cricket structure. Sports is growing in the country but the problem lies in the governing body of each sport to take on the responsibility and work towards the development of each sport.

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Anurag Singh Verma

Anurag Singh Verma has been involved in journalism for the last two decades and has worked in various capacities over the years with leading publication houses of Nepal. He enjoys meeting people and sharing ideas and experiences. Verma is more focused on writing on economic issues and strongly believes in the concept of free market economy. Besides, Verma also loves travelling which he believes allows us to see things in different perspectives.

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